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Nov 18 08 10:09 AM
Chief Master At Arms
Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that it will join the international fight against piracy, and Somali officials vowed to try to rescue the hijacked Saudi oil
supertanker by force if necessary.
But with few other options, shipowners in past piracy cases have ended up paying ransoms for their ships, cargos and crew.
NATO said it would not divert any of its three warships from the Gulf of Aden and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet also said it did not expect to send ships to
try to intercept the MV Sirius Star. The tanker was seized over the weekend about 450 nautical miles off the Kenyan coast, the latest in a surge of pirate
attacks this year.
Never before have Somali pirates seized such a giant ship so far out to sea - and never a vessel so large.
Abdullkadir Musa, the deputy sea port minister in northern Somalia's breakaway Puntland region, said that if the ship tries to anchor anywhere near Eyl
- where the U.S. said it was heading - then his forces will rescue it.
But the ship was anchored Tuesday in Harardhere, a pirate stronghold some 265 miles by land from Eyl.
Somalis on shore were stunned by the gigantic vessel - as long as an aircraft carrier at 1,080 feet - as it passed just off the coast on route to Eyl.
"As usual, I woke up at 3 a.m. and headed for the sea to fish, but I saw a very, very large ship anchored less than three miles off the shore,"
said Abdinur Haji, a fisherman near Harardhere, a pirate stronghold where the ship apparently anchored overnight, some 265 miles by land from Eyl.
"I have been fishing here for three decades, but I have never seen a ship as big as this one," he told The Associated Press in a telephone
interview. "There are dozens of spectators on shore trying to catch a glimpse of the large ship, which they can see with their naked eyes."
He said two small boats floated out to the ship and 18 men - presumably other pirates - climbed aboard with ropes woven into a ladder.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday called the hijacking "an outrageous act" and said, "piracy, like terrorism, is a
disease which is against everybody, and everybody must address it together." Speaking during a visit to Athens, Greece, he did not elaborate on what
steps, if any, the kingdom would take to better protect its vital oil tankers.
Saud said Saudi Arabia would join an international initiative against piracy in the Red Sea area, where more than 80 pirate attacks have been registered
this year, although he did not say how.
It is not known if the Sirius Star had a security team on board.
Executives from Dubai-based company that owns and operates the vessel, Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of the Saudi oil company Aramco, were
meeting Tuesday and were expected to make a statement later in the day.
An earlier statement from the company said the 25 crew were unharmed and that crisis teams had been set up to try to win their release and the return of the
It made no mention of a ransom or contacts with the bandits, but such companies have little choice but to pay out huge ransoms, usually totaling around $1
million, to ensure the safety of the crew and the vessel's return.
The Sirius Star's cargo is worth about $100 million at current prices, but the pirates have no way to unload it from the tanker.
In Vienna, Ehsan Ul-Haq, chief analyst at JBC Energy, said the seizure was not affecting oil prices, since traders are focused instead on "the overall
The latest in a surge of pirate hijackings highlighted the vulnerability of even very large ships and the inability of naval forces to intervene once
bandits are on board.
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet said Tuesday it was monitoring the situation but didn't expect to send warships to surround the vessel as it has done with
a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other weaponry the was seized off the Somali coast on Sept. 25 and remains in pirate hands.
"I don't anticipate any U.S. ships on station," said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet, speaking from its headquarters in
He would not elaborate on how the Navy was watching the hijacked tanker.
The U.S. Navy said the hijacking took place Saturday. The statement posted on Vela's Web site said the ship was hijacked Sunday. The discrepancy could
not immediately be explained.
Attacks by Somali pirates have surged this year as bandits have become bolder, better armed and capable of operating hundreds of miles from shore.
A coalition of warships from eight nations, as well as from NATO and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is patrolling a critical zone in the Gulf of Aden
leading to and from the Suez Canal. That's where most of the more than 80 attacks this year have occurred.
The Saudi tanker, however, was seized far to the south of the patrolled zone, according the U.S. Navy.
"NATO's mandate is not related to interception of hijacked ships outside the patrol area," said alliance spokesman James Appathurai.
"I'm not aware that there's any intention by NATO to try and intercept this ship."
Maritime security experts said they have tracked a southward spread in piracy over the last several weeks into a vast area of the Indian Ocean, noting with
alarm that the area would be almost impossible to patrol.
"We are very concerned that a (ship) of this size has been hijacked. We have safety concerns, security concerns, environmental concerns," said
Noel Choong, the head of the International Maritime Bureau's regional piracy center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
"Of course, as long as there is no firm deterrent, pirates will continue to attack. The risk is low and returns are extremely high. You will see more
and more of such attacks," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, British Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said the British navy had handed over eight suspected Somali pirates to Kenyan authorities Tuesday
morning. Sailors onboard the HMS Cumberland arrested the suspects, who will be tried in Kenya on Nov. 11, after they had attacked a Danish merchant vessel
using a captured Yemeni ship.
Ainsworth, speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, said it showed that warships could help deter attacks.
"But we're under no illusion about the scale of the challenge presented by piracy," he said. Referring to the Sirius Star capture, he said,
"taking such a large vessels so far out to sea represents a steep change in the capabilities of the pirates."
The Sirius Star's crew includes citizens of Croatia, Britain, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia. A British Foreign Office spokesman said there
were at least two British nationals on board.
Nov 18 08 10:55 AM
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The U.S. Navy
says a cargo ship has been hijacked off the Somalia coast - the latest in a series of attacks by
pirates operating out of the African country.
Navy Commander Jane Campbell of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet says the 26,000-ton bulk cargo carrier was attacked Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden.
She says the ship was flying a Hong Kong flag but is operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
The status of the crew or its cargo were not known. Campbell says the ship is likely heading toward an anchorage site off the Somali coast.
The ship's name or other details were not immediately known.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - The U.S. Navy says a cargo ship has been hijacked off the Somalia coast - the latest in a series of attacks by
pirates operating out of the African country.
Nov 19 08 9:48 AM
A multinational naval force has increased patrols in the waters between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, where pirates have grown bolder and
more violent. The force scored a rare success Tuesday when the Indian warship, operating off the coast of Oman, stopped a ship similar to a pirate vessel
described in numerous bulletins. The Indian navy said the pirates fired on the INS Tabar after the officers asked to search it.
"Pirates were seen roaming on the upper deck of this vessel with guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers," said a statement from the Indian
navy. Indian forces fired back, sparking fires and a series of onboard blasts - possibly due to exploding ammunition - and destroying the ship.
They chased one of two speedboats shadowing the larger ship. One was later found abandoned. The other escaped, according to the statement.
Larger "mother ships" are often used to take gangs of pirates and smaller attack boats into deep water, and can be used as mobile bases to attack
Last week, Indian navy commandos operating from a warship foiled a pirate attempt to hijack a ship in the Gulf of Aden. The navy said an armed helicopter
with marine commandos prevented the pirates from boarding and hijacking the Indian merchant vessel.
Separate bands of pirates also seized a Thai ship with 16 crew members and an Iranian cargo vessel with a crew of 25 in the Gulf of Aden, where
Somalia-based pirates appear to be attacking ships at will, said Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in
"It's getting out of control," Choong said.
Tuesday's hijackings raised to eight the number of ships hijacked this week alone, he said. Since the beginning of the year, 39 ships have been hijacked
in the Gulf of Aden, out of 95 attacked.
"The criminal activities are flourishing because the risks are low and the rewards are extremely high," Choong said.
Once, the pirates mainly roamed the waters off the Somali coast, but now they have spread in every direction and are targeting ships further at sea,
according to Choong.
He said 17 vessels remain in the hands of pirates along with more than 300 crew members, including a Ukrainian ship loaded with weapons and a Saudi Arabian
supertanker carrying $100 million in crude.
Despite the stepped-up patrols, the attacks have continued unabated off Somalia, which is caught up in an Islamic insurgency and has had no functioning
government since 1991. Pirates have generally released ships they have seized after ransoms are paid.
NATO has three warships in the Gulf of Aden and the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet also has ships in the region.
But U.S. Navy Commander Jane Campbell of the 5th Fleet said naval patrols simply cannot prevent attacks given the vastness of the sea and the 21,000 vessels
passing through the Gulf of Aden every year.
"Given the size of the area and given the fact that we do not have naval assets - either ships or airplanes - to be everywhere with every single
ship" it would be virtually impossible to prevent every attack, she said.
The Gulf of Aden connects to the Red Sea, which in turn is linked to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal. The route is thousands of miles and many days
shorter than going around the Cape of Good Hope off the southern tip of Africa.
The Thai boat, which was flying a flag from the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati but operated out of Thailand, made a distress call as it was being chased by
pirates in two speedboats, but the phone connection was cut off midway.
Wicharn Sirichaiekawat, manager of Sirichai Fisheries Co., Ltd. told The Associated Press that the ship, the "Ekawat Nava 5," was headed from Oman
to Yemen to deliver fishing equipment.
"We have not heard from them since so we don't know what the demands are," Wicharn said. "We have informed the families of the crew but
right now, we don't have much more information to give them either."
Of the 16 crew members, Wicharn said 15 are Thai and one is Cambodian.
The Iranian carrier was flying a Hong Kong flag but operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
On Tuesday, a major Norwegian shipping group, Odfjell SE, ordered its more than 90 tankers to sail around Africa rather than use the Suez Canal after the
seizure of the Saudi tanker Saturday.
"We will no longer expose our crew to the risk of being hijacked and held for ransom by pirates in the Gulf of Aden," said Terje Storeng,
Odfjell's president and chief executive.
Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer, has condemned the hijacking and said it will join the international fight against piracy. Despite the
fact that its government barely works, Somali officials vowed to try to rescue the ship by force if necessary.
The supertanker, the MV Sirius Star, was anchored Tuesday close to Harardhere, the main pirates' den on the Somali coast, with a full load of 2 million
barrels of oil and 25 crew members.
Nov 19 08 9:52 AM
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that yet another cargo ship, a 26,000-ton bulk cargo carrier, was attacked and taken over by pirates on Tuesday
in the Gulf of Aden.
What do you think the U.S. Navy and other coalition ships should be doing about the problem? Are their hands tied, or should they be doing more?
Nov 20 08 1:41 PM
MOGADISHU (AFP) - Somali pirates who
hijacked a Saudi oil super-tanker demanded a 25 million dollar ransom Thursday amid calls for tougher action to end threats to one of the world's key
As global frustration built and a major shipping company ordered some of its vessels to avoid the Gulf of
Aden, the pirates set a 10-day deadline for the ransom payment.
"We are demanding 25 million dollars (20 million euros) from the Saudi owners of the tanker. We do not want long-term discussions to resolve the
matter," a pirate who identified himself as Mohamed Said said from the ship.
"The Saudis have 10 days to comply, otherwise we will take action that could be disastrous," Said told AFP from the ship now anchored at the
Somali pirate lair of Harardhere, without elaborating.
Seized at the weekend in the Indian Ocean some 500 miles (800 kilometres) off the coast of Kenya, the Sirius Star tanker was loaded to capacity with two
million barrels of oil and the biggest vessel to be seized by pirates so far.
After the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) described the
situation as "out of control," Arab Red Sea states meeting in Cairo Thursday pledged cooperation to end the threat -- but offered few
Russia announced it would send more warships to combat piracy in the treacherous waters.
Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the top commander of the Russian navy, said: "After the Neustrashimy (Fearless), ships from other fleets of the Russian
navy will head to the region," referring to a frigate sent to the area in September.
Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, meanwhile called for an international ground military operation in the region to crush piracy, to boost
sea patrols that are yielding thin results.
"It's up to the European Union, NATO and others to launch a coastal land operation to eliminate the pirates," Rogozin told AFP, insisting
that "naval action alone will not be enough to liquidate the threat of piracy".
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged the world to firmly fight the "scourge of hostage taking."
In a sign of the havoc being wreaked by the pirates, one of the world's largest shipping companies, Danish group A.P. Moller-Maersk, ordered some of
its vessels to avoid the Gulf of Aden.
"Vessels without adequate speed or freeboard will for the time being avoid the Gulf of Aden and seek alternative routing south of the Cape of Good
Hope and east of Madagascar," the company said.
Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein warned that piracy will rage unless the world helps restore a functional government in Somalia, which collapsed
after the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
"The problems of pirates will only be resolved when the international community helps Somalia to stand on her feet," Hussein told reporters in
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Wednesday that the super-tanker's owners are in talks with the pirates, but the
company that operates the vessel has remained tight-lipped about the claims of negotiations.
At the Cairo talks, foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said Egypt would consider all possibilities. Egypt's economy heavily relies on revenue
from tourism and maritime traffic through the Suez Canal, which links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
The Indian stealth frigate INS Tabar, one of dozens of warships from several countries protecting commercial shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden, sank a
Somali pirate ship Tuesday after coming under fire, navy spokesman Nirad Sinha said.
Pirates use mother ships, generally hijacked trawlers or deep-sea dhows, to tow speedboats from which they launch their attacks.
The incident came as shipping groups reported a new surge in hijackings off Somalia, with three captured since the Sirius Star was taken.
Noel Choong, head of the piracy reporting centre at the IMB in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, said "the situation is already out of
control," but praised the Indian navy for striking the mother ship.
"We hope more navies will follow suit and stop suspected pirate boats," he added.
Choong however said that destroying pirate ships or confiscating equipment "is not the whole answer, as it is not a deterrent... it is just to
disrupt their operations. What is needed is firm action and a firm deterrent ..."
Nov 21 08 7:21 AM
The South Korean government recently decided to send a squadron of navy ships to waters off Somalia in a bid to protect its fishing and cargo ships
from piracy. Now the global community is making an effort to ensure safety in the troubled waters where private ships have frequently been the target
of attacks by pirates; the United States, England, Germany, Russia and India already dispatched their ships for patrolling and the European Union will
soon follow suit. In this sense, the government¡¯s decision is seen as very timely.
The waters off Somalia are the only direct sea route to the Suez Canal without passing through the Cape of Good Hope in the southernmost part of
Africa. Some 16,000 ships from all over the world, including 30 percent of the global oil tankers, use it every year. 460 ships from South Korea, which
handle 25 percent of South Korea¡¯s freight cargoes, also use the dangerous, short-cut route, so it¡¯s very important to secure the region.
But the waters off the coast of Somalia are notorious for piracy; heavily armed with rocket-propelling grenades, mostly used in the Somalian Civil
War, pirates often kidnapped ships for ransom, with which they can obtain more powerful, sophisticated weapons. This year, the number of hijackings has
doubled with paid ransom reaching almost 100 million dollars. As a result, the shipping insurance has increased ten times and, in desperation, the
businesses shipping goods through the area are considering a change in their navigation routes.
The dispatch of South Korean navy ships will be the first occasion for its overseas operation. The government sent its survey team to Somalia last
month and finalized its plan to dispatch its destroyers, and this time, the 4,500-ton KDX-II 5 named after the ancient Korean general Kang Kam-chan.
The destroyer is heavily equipped with firearms against aircrafts, war vessels and submarines. Its 200-person crew includes elite soldiers for special
warfare from UDT, SEALs and EOD.
As shown in the dispatch of soldiers to Iraq, sending naval ships to alien waters is not a simple endeavor. It calls for congressional endorsement
and carefully planned logistics. For all these difficulties, the government plan is expected to strengthen South Korea¡¯s ability for naval operations
and to promote international efforts to curb piracy. Gen. Kang Kam-chan, the destroyer¡¯s namesake, repelled the invasion of the 100,00-strong Kitan
troop from Manchuria with his dexterous use of water in the early 11th Century. We hope that our navy soldiers will do their best to protect our ships
and sailors from pirates.
Nov 23 08 7:43 AM
"At every transition, there comes risk," said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, speaking at the Air Force
Association's Global Warfare Symposium in Los Angeles. "It's not a risk of who gets elected; it's just a risk of change [and] how our
adversaries around the world look at our vulnerability during that time period."
Obama takes office on Jan. 20, but it could take months for him to assemble his entire team and for them to hit their stride. Rumors have swirled recently
around Washington that Obama might retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a time to ensure continuity in national security issues.
Chilton, one of the military's 10 combatant commanders, pointed to several examples of international incidents or attacks against the U.S. that have
occurred shortly after a presidential transition: President John F. Kennedy's confrontation with the Soviet Union regarding Cuba that began in 1961, the
first World Trade Center bombing and the conflict in Mogadishu, Somalia, shortly after President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, and the Sept. 11 attacks
under Bush in 2001.
"This may be all coincidence, but I don't think so," Chilton said. "Nor does our chairman [of the Joint Chiefs] or our secretary of
defense accept that it's pure coincidence."
But Chilton also said the Pentagon is focused on dissuading potential enemies from any such action.
"There is an increased focus in the Department like I have not seen … before," he said. "[We are] making sure we are ready, and we are
focused, and we are doing everything we can to facilitate the transition to a new administration and at the same time send signals to potential adversaries
that we are ready, and you better not step out of line."
As commander of StratCom, Chilton is charged with overseeing nuclear weapons, space operations, cyber operations, missile warning and counter-weapons of
mass destruction, among other areas.
Nov 24 08 10:43 AM
Protesters Sunday urged Islamabad to sever ties with the United States over the strike - highlighting the risks for Washington as it seeks to eliminate
extremists along the Afghan border yet also support Pakistan's democratically elected government.
Pakistani intelligence officials say British citizen Rashid Rauf and a Saudi militant named Abu Zubair al-Masri were among five people killed in
Saturday's raid in North Waziristan.
There was no independent confirmation of Rauf's death from either the U.S. or Britain, which had been seeking Rauf's extradition before he escaped
from Pakistani custody in December 2007.
Pakistani officials discussing the case insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivities of U.S. operations on the country's soil.
Washington has unleashed at least 20 suspected missile attacks on militant targets close to the Afghan border since mid-August, a dramatic increase that
reflects its frustration with Pakistan's own efforts.
Islamabad insists it has no knowledge of the raids, which it says undermine the country's sovereignty, undercut its anti-terror campaign and make it
harder to justify its alliance with Washington.
But many analysts speculate it has cut a secret deal with the U.S., though Islamabad continues to publicly criticize the strikes.
"It is next to impossible for the government to acknowledge working with the Americans, even if it is in the country's interests," said Samina
Ahmed, the South Asia project director for the International Crisis Group.
Ahmed and other analysts said the raids appeared to be getting more successful in targeting foreign, typically Middle Eastern, militants.
Last Friday, an al-Qaida member identified as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi was reported killed in a missile strike outside of the tribal regions where most others
Pakistani officials have said many of the victims were civilians, including women and children.
"There are American informants who are doing a far better job than they once did," she said.
Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding in Wazirstan or neighboring regions, possibly planning more attacks on
Fighters blamed for carrying out and planning attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan also use the rugged region as a staging post, military officials
Without directly admitting to being behind the raids, U.S. officials have said recently that several ranking al-Qaida operatives had been killed in the
border region in recent months.
Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, was perhaps one of the most significant yet.
Britain was seeking his return ostensibly as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, but Rauf had allegedly been in contact with a group in
Britain planning to smuggle liquid explosives onto trans-Atlantic flights and also with a suspected al-Qaida mastermind of the plot in Afghanistan.
The plot's revelation in August 2006 prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carryon items.
A London jury convicted three men in the case in September.
The U.S. raids are deeply unpopular among many ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom are already angry with their leader's support for the U.S.-led war in
About 100 people in the eastern city of Multan demonstrated against the strike, chanting "Down with America" and burning an effigy of President
George W. Bush.
"The government should take concrete measures to protect the country's sovereignty instead of just paying lip service," said one demonstrator,
Talat Masood, a retired military general and political analyst, said America's interests would be better served if it shared intelligence with Pakistan
and allowed it to act.
But U.S. officials have suggested that elements of Pakistan's intelligence and military - which supported the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan
- may be sympathetic to the extremists.
"There is a lack of trust here, but the danger is that the government is looking helpless, while anti-American sentiment is growing with each incoming
missile," said Masood. "Ultimately, you need the support of the people in fighting this war."
Nov 25 08 8:22 AM
Peter Swift, managing director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, said stronger naval action - including aerial and aviation
support - is necessary to battle rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia.
But NATO, which has four warships off the coast of Somalia, rejected a blockade.
Some 20 tankers sail through the sea lane daily. But many tanker owners are considering a massive detour around southern Africa to avoid pirates, which will
delay delivery and push costs up by 30 percent, Swift said.
The association, whose members own 2,900 tankers or 75 percent of the world's fleet, opposes attempts to arm merchant ships because it could escalate
the violence and put crew members at even greater risk, he said.
"The other option is perhaps putting a blockade around Somalia and introducing the idea of intercepting vessels leaving Somalia rather than to try to
protect the whole of the Gulf of Aden," Swift said.
Somali pirates have become increasingly brazen, seizing eight vessels in the past two weeks, including a huge Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million
worth of crude oil.
On Monday, Yemen's Interior Ministry says Somali pirates have hijacked a Yemeni cargo ship in the Arabian Sea. It said communication with the vessel was
lost last Tuesday after it had been out to sea for a week.
The ship is called Adina and it was not immediately clear what cargo it was carrying. The U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain could not confirm the
The Arabian Sea is part of the Indian Ocean and stretches between Yemen and Somalia. The Gulf of Aden links it with the Red Sea.
A blockade along Somalia's 2,400 mile coastline would not be easy.
"But some intervention there may be effective," Swift told reporters on the sidelines of a shipping conference in Malaysia.
U.S. Gen. John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander, said Monday the alliance's mandate is solely to escort World Food Program ships to Somalia
and to conduct anti-piracy patrols.
Asked what he thought of a Russian proposal to jointly attack the pirate strongholds, Craddock answered: "That's far beyond what I've been
tasked to do."
According to Lt. Nathan Christensen, 5th Fleet spokesman, more than 14 warships from Denmark, France, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, the U.S. and NATO
are currently patrolling a vast international maritime corridor. They escort some merchant ships and respond to distress calls in the area.
Christensen declined to comment on the idea of a blockade.
But the navies say it is virtually impossible to patrol the vast sea around the gulf.
NATO has ruled out a blockade.
"Blocking ports is not contemplated by NATO," said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels. U.N. Security Council resolutions
"do not include these kind of actions and as far as NATO is concerned, this is at the moment not on the cards," he said.
Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa said Monday Arabs should deploy their own naval forces to fight piracy in the Horn of Africa and also
cooperate with foreign fleets in the area.
Diplomats of the Arab countries on the Red Sea met in Cairo last week to coordinate efforts to combat piracy, but some of these nations have been reluctant
to get involved.
Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency, has had no functioning government since 1991. Before the Yemeni report of another
hijacked ship, there had been 95 pirate attacks so far this year in Somali waters, with 39 ships hijacked.
There were 15 ships with nearly 300 crew still in the hands of Somali pirates, who dock the hijacked vessels near the eastern and southern coast as they
negotiate for ransom. That does not include the Yemeni cargo vessel.
"Any action to prevent the pirates from heading out to sea is welcome," said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy
reporting center in Kuala Lumpur. He said it was up to the international community to decide how they can deploy their forces for the blockade.
The Baltic and International Maritime Council, the world's largest private shipping organization, echoed calls for greater military action.
"Despite increased patrols by coalition forces, piracy attacks continue. We hope a system ... will be put in place to coordinate the coalition
forces," said Thomas Timlen, its Asian liaison officer. "It's clear from recent events ... that more needs to be done."
Both Swift and Timlen said a blockade is possible if the multi-coalition naval force coordinate their actions and more warships are sent to the area with a
U.N. resolutions now allow pursuit of pirate ships but various countries interpret the law differently, Swift said.
He called for a clear mandate from the United Nations to allow warships to intercept pirate ships and arrest the sea bandits.
OOPS! This was a Thai fishing boat,not a pirate!
Nov 29 08 7:55 AM
The move comes as the U.S. and its allies grow concerned over the possibility of pirates forming ties with terrorist groups.
Marshall Billingeslea, the deputy undersecretary of the Navy, led a delegation that included senior service intelligence and piracy experts to Brussels,
Belgium, on Nov. 18 for meetings with top NATO military officials and ambassadors. Ongoing counterinsurgency operations include some 18 ships from NATO and
European Union nations, as well as Russia and India.
During the briefing sessions - including with the chairman of NATO's Military Committee, Italian Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola - the U.S. team demonstrated
the Maritime Domain Awareness system, which is able to better track global maritime traffic.
Over the next month, 6th Fleet, NATO and U.S. Africa Command will join the system that was adopted in May 2007.
NATO nations have access to MDA's more limited predecessor, the Maritime Safety Information System, and soon will be able to tap MDA as well, said the
senior Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Office of Naval Intelligence also shared its highly classified information on pirate networks with allied officials. ONI has intricate data on
individual pirates, including top leaders. The office also has declassified information as part of a broader drive to educate not only top military officials
on the threat, but mariners and shipping firms as well.
According to Navy officials, pirates tend to attack between 4 a.m. and 6 p.m., so ships - whenever possible - should transit pirate-infested waters at night
and at as high a speed as possible; pirates can't board ships traveling faster than 15 knots.
The senior official also said the key to combating piracy will take a multipronged approach - the leading element of which is sustained international action
made possible through better intelligence sharing to stop piracy while at the same time working to dismantle pirate networks.
Navy officials are worried that unless piracy is more effectively combated, pirates could begin cooperating with terrorist groups, posing a far greater
global security danger.
"We're concerned that the pirates and the terrorists will find each other and then the problem will explode," the official said. "In
Afghanistan, the drug traffickers have an entire infrastructure in place, from weapons to hiding places to means of transportation, that terrorists have found
advantageous. We are concerned that the pirates are increasingly disciplined and well-funded, building an increasingly robust infrastructure that will be
turned to other uses. We don't want to see a symbiotic relationship between pirates and terrorists."
Despite international efforts, the piracy scourge off the lawless coast of Somalia isn't likely to abate anytime soon, according to a panel of four
experts convened Nov. 24 in Washington - in fact, they said, it's likely to get worse.
As long as Somalia has no effective central government to keep pirates from taking refuge in its harbors, attackers will continue hijacking ships and
bringing in lucrative ransoms, the panel members agreed, speaking in a session at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But short of full-scale land invasions
to break up pirate networks and seize the ports they're using as sanctuaries - a course none of the panel members recommended - the world can only fight
the symptoms, not the causes, of anarchy in Somalia, they said.
There is even a great deal of circumstantial evidence that the government of Somalia, such as it is, "is enjoying the fruits of piracy," said J.
Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. So both the current dysfunctional government and
any replacements have an incentive to let the hijackings continue, Pham, one of the panel members, said.
Another panelist, Dominick Donald, chief analyst for the British security firm Aegis Defense Services, pointed out that pirates have shown they can observe
and adapt to the changing picture off their shores. Starting in 2007, merchant ships began avoiding the eastern coast of Somalia to escape the hijacking
threat, he said, so pirates began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden, with its closer targets and heavier traffic.
The pirate groups also realize that most of the naval ships around the Horn of Africa are there to protect U.N. humanitarian shipments, not fight pirates,
Donald said. On top of that, attackers need only about 15 minutes to come alongside a slow-moving cargo ship, scale its deck and take it over. Even if a
watch-stander sends a distress signal, none of the U.S. or international navies is likely to respond in time.
All four panelists explained why they believe most proposed solutions to the pirate problem wouldn't work. Merchant shippers don't want to form
convoys escorted by warships because it throws off their schedules, and that can be more expensive than paying a ransom, said panelist Charlie Dragonette, a
senior civil maritime operations analyst with ONI. Likewise, civilian mariners are leery of private-sector escorts, as have been offered by the military
contractor Blackwater, because of the cost and the tangle of legal and liability questions raised by hiring armed operatives.
Killing or capturing pirates - if navies caught them in the act - also wouldn't do much good, said panelist Martin Murphy, a senior fellow with the
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Attackers would just change their operations to further minimize the chance a navy would stop them, or worse,
pirates could begin killing hostages to prove they were serious. So far, the pirates have refrained from hurting or killing their hostages, probably out of
fear such a move would affect their ransoms.
What would work off Somalia? Murphy suggested the U.S. and its allies should treat pirates the way they treat international terrorist organizations, using
surveillance and intelligence to find out as much as possible. Intelligence operatives and analysts have almost no reliable details about how the pirates
operate, Murphy said, despite many ideas and theories.
Also, it isn't clear what happens to the money pirates bring in from seizures and ransoms; much of it is paid to attackers and in bribes to locals, but
another large portion disappears. Once U.S. and allied commanders have solid information about who the pirates are and how they operate, he said, it'll be
clearer how to take apart their networks.
Nov 30 08 1:58 PM
So when a new volunteer, Les Huffman, arrived at the chaotic 1,000-square-foot room used for the Warrior and Family Support Center in January 2007 and asked
what Markelz needed, the program manager said a new video game system.
But Huffman, the president of a small commercial development firm, wanted to do more. And when Markelz conceded she could use a little more room, that's
what she got: a $5 million building designed like a Texas Hill Country home with a therapeutic garden, classroom, video game room and kitchen - all paid for by
private donations. It's the first center of its kind built on an Army post.
"I asked for an Xbox 360 and I got a 12,500 square-foot building," she laughs. "Nice trade-off."
Markelz gets the keys to the new place, built at Fort Sam Houston, on Monday.
The original support center opened five years ago and was expected to just offer a couple of activities a month and provide a small place for the wounded to
hang out so they wouldn't stay in their cramped barracks all the time.
But as the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, the number of severely wounded service members grew. Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam has the
Army's only burn unit and a large amputee rehabilitation program, meaning many of the wounded are there for the long haul.
Their family members - usually wives or mothers - often drop everything when they get the call that their spouse or child is wounded and arrive in San
Antonio overwhelmed. They forget diapers for their infants, don't have more than a couple of changes of clothes and don't have any way of getting
around the city.
"I had a lady get off the plane with two left shoes," Markelz said. "When you get that phone call, rational is not what you are."
But even after the immediate panic, the families have other needs. Sometimes, spouses need education or job skills, and they often need the diversion of
crafts, meals and outings, Markelz said.
The 59-year-old retired teacher and her three-member staff have been working with volunteers to provide all that in the overflowing conference room of a
Fort Sam hotel. They've logged 264,000 visits from service members and their relatives in the last five years.
But the new building gives them a lot more space and the ability to do things the cramped room didn't.
A large kitchen will allow families to cook. A barbecue pavilion sits near a garden built for relaxation and therapy. A classroom will offer graduation
equivalency diploma classes and other skills. A high-end game room designed by a couple of the wounded servicemen will allow for video game tournaments and
A soaring 18-foot metal sculpture of butterflies - a symbol of hope that a group of the burn center mothers adopted - swirls up over the fireplace; it was
designed by one of the wounded soldiers.
"It doesn't look like anything the Army has ever built," Markelz said.
Cash donations to the Returning Heroes Home, the nonprofit Huffman Developments set up to oversee the project, were supplemented by subcontractors eager to
give their time and by suppliers willing to give materials for free or at steep discounts.
"Whenever we've needed anything, things have just come together," said Beverly Lamoureux, the Huffman Developments executive vice president
who helped oversee the design and building of the new center.
Huffman, a local developer with just 10 employees, mostly builds medical and dental offices. It had never built for the Army before and wanted the center to
feel like a Hill Country lodge, with a limestone facade and rustic Lone Star-themed fixtures.
But the support center also had to comply with Army building codes, so blast resistant windows were installed, energy efficiency rules were followed and
reclaimed beams from a Naval base were used, Lamoureux said.
"It's just our way to say thank you," she said. "I don't think there will be a project I'll ever be involved in that will mean as
much to me."
Huffman and the Returning Heroes Home just got permission from the Army to do more. Seven acres off the back of the garden will be developed into a park
space, with an amphitheater and barbecue areas. It'll also include trails that therapists can use to work with new prosthetic wearers and other wounded
Markelz is ecstatic to get moved into the new building before the holidays. A Jewish group will provide a big Christmas dinner, as it does every year for
the wounded and their families who can't go elsewhere. The staff and volunteers will make sure the wounded service members, especially the ones here
without family, get gifts and a sense of family.
"I can guarantee, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," Markelz said, borrowing a line from a famous 1897 New York Sun editorial. "That
much I have learned."
Dec 1 08 10:39 AM
Last updated at 8:51 AM on 30th November 2008
Deep beneath the surface of the Atlantic, HMS Vanguard - one of four identical Royal Navy submarines carrying Trident nuclear missiles - is on patrol.
Moving at a fast-walking pace, she is out there right now; undetectable, untouchable and armed with more explosive power than was unleashed by all sides in
the duration of World War II.
On board the Vanguard there is a safe attached to the floor of the control room. Inside that, there is an inner safe. And inside that sits a letter. It is
addressed to the submarine commander and it is from the Prime Minister.
In that letter, Gordon Brown conveys the most awesome decision of his political career. He made it alone, in the first days of his premiership, and none of
us is ever likely to know what he decided.
HMS Vanguard, pictured sailing from HMNB Clyde, holds missiles that could end the world
It is the Prime Minister's answer to a grim but essential question: in the event of a nuclear attack in which Britain is largely destroyed and he is
killed before he has time to react, should Britain fire back?
Dec 2 08 9:17 AM
The liner, carrying 656 international passengers and 399 crew members, was sailing in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday when it encountered six pirates in two
speedboats, said Noel Choong who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Malaysia.
The pirates fired at the passenger liner but the larger boat was faster than the pirates' vessels, Choong said.
"It is very fortunate that the liner managed to escape," he said, urging all ships to remain vigilant in the area.
The ship's owner, Oceania Cruises Inc., identified the vessel as the M/S Nautica.
In a statement on its Web site, the company said pirates fired eight rifle shots at the liner as it sailed along a maritime corridor patrolled by an
international naval coalition, but that the ship's captain increased speed and managed to outrun the skiffs. All passengers and crew are safe and there was
no damage to the vessel, it said.
The Nautica was on a 32-day cruise from Rome to Singapore, with stops at ports in Italy, Egypt, Oman, Dubai, India, Malaysia and Thailand, the Web site
said. Based on that schedule, the liner was headed from Egypt to Oman when it was attacked.
The liner arrived in the southern Oman port city of Salalah on Monday morning, and the passengers toured the city before leaving for the capital, Muscat,
Monday evening, an official of the Oman Tourism Ministry said Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it was aware of the failed hijacking but did not have further details.
International warships patrol the area and have created a security corridor in the pirate-infested waters under a U.S.-led initiative, but the attacks have
In about 100 attacks on ships off the Somali coast this year, 40 vessels have been hijacked, Choong said. Fourteen remain in the hands of pirates along with
more than 250 crew members.
In two if the most daring attacks, pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 battle tanks in September, and on Nov. 15, a Saudi oil tanker
carrying $100 million worth of crude oil.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Kyrylych said Monday that negotiations with Somali pirates holding the cargo ship MV Faina are nearly
completed, the Interfax news agency reported.
A spokesman for the Faina's owner said Sunday that the Somali pirates had agreed on a ransom for the ship and it could be released within days.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, and pirates have taken advantage of the country's lawlessness to launch attacks on foreign
shipping from the Somali coast. Around 100 ships have been attacked so far this year.
Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein said Tuesday that his country has been torn apart by 18 years of civil war and cannot stop piracy alone.
"The piracy problem is part of the legacy of the situation of the country. This 18 years of civil war is followed by disorder," Hussein told The
Associated Press in an interview in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Stopping piracy is "not something Somalia can do alone. This needs a tremendous effort," he said.
Hussein has appealed for international troops, as his government's Ethiopian allies have said they would pull out their forces by the end of the
The Ethiopians are all that has stood between the shaky administration and Islamic insurgents who have seized control of all of southern Somalia except for
the capital and the parliamentary seat of Baidoa.
Dec 3 08 7:52 AM
At the liaison conference, governors and others from 14 prefectures concerned asked both national governments to promote mutual understanding and build a
cooperative structure to resolve environmental issues that arise from base-hosting, according to government officials.
The meeting, which was held at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, drew such local leaders as Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa and Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura.
Seiko Hashimoto, state secretary for foreign affairs, and Senior Vice Defense Minister Seigo Kitamura represented the central government, while U.S. Ambassador
to Japan Thomas Schieffer and Lt. Gen. Edward Rice, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, represented the U.S. side.
The parties agreed to hold similar meetings in the future, the officials said. Wednesday's meeting came about at the request of a liaison council
comprised of the governors of the 14 prefectures.
After the meeting, Schieffer told reporters that the liaison conference such as Wednesday's will not supplant the existing Japan-U.S. joint commission,
which deals with issues concerning the Status of Forces Agreement for protecting U.S. military interests in Japan.
The ambassador said, however, that he is willing to listen to the views of local governments concerned and borrow their strengths in order to beef up the
Dec 3 08 10:02 AM
This coming Sunday will be the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, falling on the actual day of the week when the attack occurred. Let's all
take a moment this Sunday to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice on that terrible day, so long ago. They will NOT be forgotten!
...at least by those of us who do not believe that the whole thing was an unfortunate incident and should be forgotten and swept under the carpet.
Dec 4 08 8:29 AM
Chinese ships have been among those seized in a wave of pirate attacks this year, including the fishing vessel Tianyu No. 8, seized in mid-November.
International warships from NATO and countries including Russia patrol the Gulf of Aden and have created a security corridor in the area under a U.S.-led
initiative, but attacks have not abated.
"Piracy doesn't just interfere in our country's navigational safety, it also impedes our development and interests," Major General Jin
Yinan told state radio.
"I think our navy should send ships to the Gulf of Aden to carry out anti-piracy duties," Jin said, according to a transcript of the interview
posted Thursday on the Web site of the official China News Service. The date of the interview was not given.
China's People's Liberation Army Navy has little experience operating at long-range, its primary mission being coastal patrol. However, the service
is believed to have major ambitions, possibly including the eventual deployment of an aircraft carrier.
Jin serves as vice research director at the military's National Defense University and is frequently quoted on issues concerning deployments overseas.
China's military has strict rules about officers making public statements, and it is highly unlikely he would have given the interview without consent from
the top brass.
Jin dismissed the possibility that the deployment might stir international concerns about a more aggressive China.
"Dispatching ships is a very common act and we wouldn't just be protecting Chinese shipping," Jin said. "We are a permanent member of the
United Nations Security Council and these are the duties of major nation."
Dec 5 08 9:03 AM
Joshua Eller, who worked as a civilian computer-aided drafting technician with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, said military personnel, contractors and
third-country nationals may have been sickened by contamination at the largest U.S. installation in Iraq, home to more than 30,000 service members, Defense
Department civilians and contractors.
"Defendants promised the United States government that they would supply safe water for hygienic and recreational uses, safe food supplies and properly
operate base incinerators to dispose of medical waste safely," according to the lawsuit, filed Nov. 26 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of
Texas. "Defendants utterly failed to perform their promised duties."
Eller and his attorneys are seeking to have the lawsuit declared a class action.
Diana Gabriel, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, said her company is "improperly named" in the lawsuit. "As such, we expect Halliburton to be
dismissed from the action as Halliburton has no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the actions alleged," Gabriel said. "It would be
inappropriate for Halliburton to comment on the merits of a matter affecting only the interest of KBR."
Halliburton announced in April 2007 that it had dissolved its ties with KBR, which had been its contracting, engineering and construction unit since the
Heather Browne, director of corporate communications for KBR, said her company "has not been formally served with this litigation, so we are not
commenting at this time."
Eller filed his claim after he deployed in February 2006 for 10 months. The lawsuit claims he developed skin lesions that subsequently spread, filled with
fluid and burst. He said they went away, then reappeared, followed by blisters on his feet that made it painful for him to walk. He said they healed, but
continue to return every three to four months.
Then, Eller said he experienced vomiting, cramping and diarrhea, and continues to suffer severe abdominal pain.
"Plaintiff witnessed the open air burn pit in operation at Balad Air Force Base," the lawsuit states. "On one occasion, he witnessed a wild
dog running around base with a human arm in its mouth. The human arm had been dumped on the open air burn pit by KBR."
Eller said he still has nightmares and has been diagnosed with adjustment disorder.
The lawsuit states that KBR was required to comply with military standards for clean water, and monitor it. Eller accused KBR of not performing water
quality tests and of not properly treating or chlorinating water, and said an audit by the Defense Department backs up his claim.
A report from Wil Granger, KBR's water quality manager for Iraq, states that non-potable water used for showering was not disinfected. "This caused
an unknown population to be exposed to potentially harmful water for an undetermined amount of time," according to the report. The report also stated the
problems occurred all across Iraq and were not confined to Balad.
The lawsuit states there was no formalized training for KBR employees in proper water operations, and the company maintained insufficient documentation
about water safety. The suit notes that former KBR employees Ben Carter and Ken May testified at a congressional hearing in January 2006 that KBR used
contaminated water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Carter testified that he found the water polluted with sewage and that KBR did not chlorinate it.
The lawsuit states the swimming pools at Balad were also filled with unsafe water.
Eller also accused KBR of serving spoiled, expired and rotten food to the troops, as well as dishes that may have been contaminated with shrapnel
"Defendants knowingly and intentionally supplied and served food that was well past its expiration date, in some cases over a year past its expiration
date," the lawsuit states. "Even when it was called to the attention of the KBR food service managers that the food was expired, KBR still served the
food to U.S. forces."
The food included chicken, beef, fish, eggs and dairy products, which caused cases of salmonella poisoning, according to the lawsuit.
"KBR prevented their employees from speaking with government auditors and hid employees from auditors by moving them from bases when an audit was
scheduled," the lawsuit states. "Any employees that spoke with auditors were sent to more dangerous locations in Iraq as punishment."
The lawsuit also accuses KBR of shipping ice in mortuary trucks that "still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were
loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces."
Eller also accuses KBR of failing to maintain a medical incinerator at Joint Base Balad, which has been confirmed by two surgeons in interviews with
Military Times about the Balad burn pit. Instead, according to the lawsuit and the physicians, medical waste, such as needles, amputated body parts and bloody
bandages were burned in the open-air pit.
"Wild dogs in the area raided the burn pit and carried off human remains," the lawsuit states. "The wild dogs could be seen roaming the base
with body parts in their mouths, to the great distress of the U.S. forces."
According to military regulations, medical waste must be burned in an incinerator to prevent anyone from breathing hazardous fumes.
"On at least one occasion, defendants were attempting to improperly dispose of medical waste at an open-air burn pit by backing a truck full of medical
waste up to the pit and emptying the contents onto the fire," the lawsuit states. "The truck caught fire. Defendants' fraudulent actions were
thereby discovered by the military."
The lawsuit also states that the contractors burned old lithium batteries in the pits, "causing noxious and unsafe blue smoke to drift over the
Military Times has received more than 100 letters from troops saying they were sickened by fumes from the burn pits, which burned plastics, petroleum
products, rubber, dining-facility waste and batteries.
The lawsuit asks that the plaintiffs receive monetary compensation for physical injuries, emotional distress, fear of future disease, and need for continued
medical treatment and involvement, and that KBR and Halliburton be stripped of all revenue and profits earned "from their pattern of constant misconduct
and callous disregard to the welfare of Americans serving and working in Iraq."
Dec 6 08 7:56 AM
American troops have already begun implementing some of the changes, including conducting more joint operations with Iraqi soldiers and getting warrants
before raids against suspected insurgents.
Iraq's three-member presidential council signed off on the agreement Thursday, the final legal hurdle to enable the pact to go into effect next month -
even though voters will have the final say in a referendum to be held by the end of July.
The pact replaces a U.N. mandate that gives the U.S.-led coalition sweeping powers to conduct military operations and detain people without charge if they
were believed to pose a security threat. It requires U.S. troops withdraw from Baghdad and other cities by the end of June and leave the country entirely by
January 1, 2012.
In a letter to the nearly 150,000 troops, Gen. Ray Odierno sought to reassure members of his command that the new agreement would not diminish their ability
to defend themselves, even though new rules spelling out when, where and how soldiers can open fire will be published.
"The new environment, though, will require a subtle shift in how we plan, coordinate and execute combat missions throughout Iraq," Odierno said.
Under the agreement, the U.S. troops must get Iraqi approval for combat operations and carry them out "by, with and through the Iraqi security
forces," he added.
Nevertheless, Odierno stressed that the coalition must "maintain our effectiveness in accomplishing our objectives," including combating al-Qaida
and other insurgent groups. But he said "we must do so with respect for the Iraqi Constitution and laws, and we must continue to treat all Iraqi citizens
with the utmost dignity and honor."
Odierno said the new rules of engagement - which among other things spell out when soldiers can open fire - will not diminish "our fundamental ability
to protect ourselves and the force."
He said senior officers were in talks with the Iraqi government to work out procedures and that detailed orders, including new tactics, would be issued
"We will implement the agreement through phased, deliberate steps that preserve security gains, and we will complete our mission with honor and
success," he said.
Nonetheless, the agreement will bring fundamental changes in the way U.S. forces operate here as the nearly six-year long American mission winds down.
Among other things, the agreement states that after Jan. 1, U.S. troops may not search homes or businesses without warrants "except in the case of
active combat operations." The U.S. military must transfer the more than 15,000 detainees in its custody to the Iraqis or release them if there is not
enough evidence to hold them.
In preparation for the change, U.S. officers have been quietly implementing some new procedures. Already, most combat operations are conducted jointly with
Iraqi soldiers and police, and more raids are carried out with warrants issued by Iraqi judges.
It is unclear, however, whether the changes will be as seamless as senior officers insist.
In the past, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had been openly critical of some U.S. operations, including attacks against Shiite militias in Baghdad's
Sadr City neighborhood until he broke this year with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
During a press conference Wednesday, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, acknowledged there could be friction between U.S. and
Iraqi officers on when and where to launch attacks.
"It's combat and you know there will be friction from day to day and we hope that these friction points will be minor," Austin said.
The level of fighting in Iraq has dropped significantly since a cease-fire last spring between the Iraqi government and Shiite militias in Basra and Baghdad
- a move that enabled the Iraqi army to take control of flashpoint neighborhoods. Last month, only eight U.S. soldiers were killed in action, a fraction of the
monthly toll earlier in the war.
At least 4,209 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Most of the fighting is taking place in the north against al-Qaida and other Sunni extremists who have suffered major setbacks but have not been defeated.
On Thursday, two U.S. soldiers were killed by a suicide car bomber in Mosul, the main city in the north.
Still, however, attacks occur in Baghdad and other areas, although at lower frequency.
Two truck bombers killed at least 17 people Thursday in Fallujah, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold 40 miles west of Baghdad. Police said two bodies - a
policeman and a child - were found Friday in the rubble of nearby buildings destroyed by the blasts.
On Friday, a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi security patrol in southern Baghdad, killing one policeman and a Sunni volunteer, police said. Two other
members of the patrol were wounded.
To the north, three women were killed in Balad Ruz when a bomb planted in a radio exploded, Iraqi officials said.
One of the women picked up the radio off the street and brought it home. It detonated when one of the women tried to turn it on, officials said
Dec 8 08 7:20 AM
The same day, a swarm of 12 to 20 small pirate boats attacked a group of five cargo vessels running in an informal convoy. Merchant sailors were trying to
repel the pirates with fire hoses when the Italian destroyer Luigi Durand de la Penne rushed to their aid and scattered the attackers.
Within the preceding week, pirates chased and fired on two cruise ships packed with vacationers as they passed off the Somali coast.
"We are fighting with our backs to the wall," said Per Gullestrup, CEO of Danish ship owner Clipper Projects.
Nikos Tzanetakos, an officer aboard the Greek tanker Ellivita, told the Reuters news service Dec. 2 that the Gulf of Aden has become a "route of
One of Gullestrup's ships, the bulk cargo carrier CEC Future, was hijacked Nov. 7 and remains in pirate hands with its crew. Pirates in small boats
later accosted the Ellivita, but when its crew put up a sign warning that it was protected by "high-voltage cables," they broke off their attack,
Shippers are fed up, Gullestrup told Navy Times. He urged the U.S. and European governments to step up their efforts to guard the thousands of merchant
vessels that pass each year through the Gulf of Aden. To prevent more hijackings, Gullestrup said he wants the U.S. and world navies to form more convoys,
station armed sailors aboard civilian vessels and sink the "mother ships" from which pirates launch their attacks.
He rejected the notion that shippers would rather take their chances with pirate attacks off Somalia than risk delays to meet prearranged military escorts.
If coalition navies ran more regularly scheduled convoys up and down the Horn of Africa, Gullestrup said, his ships would alter their schedules to meet
Navy officials have said their ships can't be everywhere at once and have called on commercial shippers to take on security detachments, among other
Much of shipping industry is changing its behavior to deal with the rash of attacks off the lawless Somali coast. The maritime newspaper Lloyd's List
reported Dec. 3 that ship owners in London were considering changing the registries of their ships, either to their own nations or to those with navies
patrolling off Somalia.
For example, a Finnish-owned tanker might fly the flag of Finland, rather than its normal "flag of convenience," such as Panama, so the ship could
appeal for help from a warship belonging to the European Union. Naval patrols should theoretically respond to distress calls from any ship, no matter its flag,
but owners are betting they'll get an edge by flying European flags. France, which has ordered two missions to rescue French captives from pirates, likely
will be a popular choice for a new flag, according to Lloyd's List.
Still, not every firm in the very heterogeneous shipping world is changing its policies or appealing for help. B.J. Talley, a spokesman for Maersk Line
Ltd., the largest operator of U.S.-flagged cargo ships, said his company's container ships are fast enough and have high enough freeboards to be less
vulnerable to hijackings. Fast, modern container ships have so far been mostly immune from attacks off Somalia.
On the other hand, company officials at the parent Maersk line, based in Denmark, haven't decided what to do about their fleet of international-flagged
tankers, spokeswoman Mary Ann Kotlarich said. Those slower, low-freeboard ships probably will either wait for a navy escort or take the long way around the
southern tip of Africa, she said, which is safer but adds time and expense.
A few international navies in early December announced they would join or step up their participation in the fight against piracy. At the same time as the
passage of the U.N. resolution, a squadron of four European ships was dispatched to the Horn of Africa, and a top Chinese admiral said he thought the
People's Liberation Army Navy should send a ship to protect Chinese-flagged traffic off Somalia.
As for the U.S., Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told a naval conference in Chile on Dec. 2 that he didn't believe the Navy should change
its normal operations in the area. He repeated that U.S. warships couldn't be everywhere and that civilian mariners had an obligation to protect themselves
- especially, he acknowledged, since the danger seemed to be worsening.
"Enemies to peace and free trade - such as pirates, illegal traffickers and terrorist groups - grow more sophisticated every day and have become more
dispersed around the world," Roughead said.
Gullestrup told Navy Times he thought the U.N. resolution was a step in the right direction because the international warships stationed off Somalia needed
a formal mandate to chase pirates. They also need new strategies for protecting merchant vessels, he said.
"The current regimen doesn't work," he said. "Just patrolling doesn't work, as long as ships keep getting hijacked. It seems to us,
if we could use our assets better, we could improve the immediate security position."
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen also praised the U.N. Security Council resolution as a step forward.
Allen told Navy Times that he thought the world needed to create a "consequence delivery regime" - in which pirates could be apprehended, tried
and sentenced - to dissuade further hijackings. Before any attacks take place, governments must agree on who will hold pirates taken captive, what evidence can
be used to prosecute them and who will carry out their sentences, Allen said.
The Security Council resolution moved toward that goal by invoking a 1988 regulation, the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts
against the Safety of Maritime Navigation. Passed after the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, the law sets down rules by which member nations can
prosecute people for crimes on the high seas. Almost all the hijackings in the Gulf of Aden fall under this rule, Allen wrote on his official blog.
But it could take weeks for the resolution to pay off in the sea lanes off Somalia, where, as Roughead repeated, commanders say there is just too much water
for them to watch at once. And the U.N. maritime safety rule was written with the assumption that high-seas criminals would be taken to the authorities of the
nearest coastal nation and then extradited to the government whose ship was involved in the crime. But Somalia has no functioning central government - one
reason piracy has exploded in the area.
When allied ships do get a chance to nab pirates, they don't always take it: The captain of the Danish frigate Absalon complained Dec. 3 to Danish
reporters aboard his ship that he hadn't received permission from U.S. commanders to bring aboard eight pirates after they tried to board a merchant
vessel. Danish TV showed Danish sailors interrogating the pirates with a Long Range Acoustic Device, then letting the pirates go.
Dec 9 08 10:15 AM
The company said the 150-meter (490-foot) MS Columbus and its crew will continue on through the Gulf of Aden. Passengers will rejoin the vessel in Oman for
the remainder of a trip that began last month in Genoa, Italy.
A company spokesman said passengers would be transferred to planes, but would not comment further.
Pirates off the Somali coast have recently started trying to take cruise vessels after a string of attack on cargo ships, including a Saudi oil tanker and a
Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and other weapons.
The British naval commander in charge of the European Union's anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia said Tuesday that the force may station armed
guards on the most vulnerable cargo ships in high-risk areas.
British Vice-Admiral Philip Jones said the guards may be placed on some ships transporting food aid to Somalia.
The EU mission includes four ships and two maritime reconnaissance aircraft On Dec. 15 it will replace a four-vessel NATO flotilla that has been conducting
anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast
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